After a long walking day in Higashiyama Northern and Central regions including the iconic Gion District, we were all a little drained of energy. There are over a thousand temples and shrines distributed around Kyōto and it would be wise to select a few for a dedicated visit. We choose based on each’s unique character – dry garden, Zen tea garden, visual impact and distance. All these are based on literature available prior to travel. Nothing is definite and certain; however, there was a plan! Navindd and Lee Cheng retired to our hostel before dinner. With barely any daylight hours left, I headed to Southern Kyōto, to visit, Fushimi Inari Taisha.
This Shinto Shrine, dedicated to the God of Rice,”Inari”, had graced the covers of glossy travel magazines and brochures as an iconic destination in Japan. I arrived here in Fushimi town by JR train. The temple is conveniently located just across the station. The slanted setting sun shined on the giant orange “torii” gates at the entrance. Near a sign post, school girls in navy blue skirts and sailor’s cape with white top read the temple layout map attentively. Beyond this, was the tower gate, “rōmon” and the front view of the “Haiden”, Hall of Worship.
This temple was founded in year 711 by HATA-no-Iroko (or, Irogu). There was a small but enthusiastic crowd. The sun was almost touching the western horizon. I hurried up concrete steps past stone statues of foxes, “kitsune”. They are regarded as messengers. It was peculiar, keys, apparently of the rice granary, were kept in their mouth. As I climbed up the hill, I encountered tall stone “torii” entrances. Eventually, I ended in an open intersection with two parallel rows of smaller wooden “torii” tunnels called “Senbon Torii”, Thousands of Torii Gates. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. The pathway is laid with a concrete pathway with grey pebbles on either side. The orange – vermillion lacquered “torii” gates were lined up closely that it created a tunnel like effect.
There was hardly anyone around and walking alone with only narrow shafts of light piercing through the wooded forest was quite eerie. I looked into the forest slopes. The bright red-orange “torii” straddled up the mountain. Stone lanterns and little shrines were scattered around. These “torii” gate had been donated by individuals and business. The larger the donation, the bigger the size of “torii” gate and higher up the mountain. Perhaps to bring good fortune, a harvest! Names of these donors are inscribed at the back of each “torii”. At intersections, hundreds of miniature red “torii” gate were place at the shrines. This is perhaps for those with a very modest budget. The passage uphill looked like eternity.
The sun’s shafts of light brightened parts of the tunnel leaving the rest darkened. The effect was stunning. Small lanterns hung inside the tunnel intermittently. Stone slab pathway gave way to steps which ascended higher. The “torri” gates were now taller and bigger. Dusk had set in and the tree canopy inhibited the remaining daylight. I decided to retrace my steps back to the entrance. The 4 km trail takes about 2 – 3 hours with over 5000 vibrant red-orange “torii” gates from the base of “Inari-san”, Mt Inari. It was quite exciting and unique experience walking through this ‘tunnel’. These thousands of lacquered gates is one of the most iconic landmarks of Kyōto and a quintessential image of Japan.
The ever-changing colours on the lacquered “torii”, created by the blazing setting sun, were amazing. Within meters outside the ‘tunnel’, dusk had set in the rather dark, eerie and silent mountain forest. It was a captivating phenomenon.